“Had to” – a linguistic conundrum?

I would suggest that it is worth being cautious about using language that suggests we don’t have a choice when we do

“We had to have an abortion because the baby had Sirenomelia”

“We had to get the train because the last bus had gone”

“We had to give a bribe because otherwise the customs people would have delayed us until our flight had gone”

I don’t see much problem with getting the train instead of the bus. But in every case it seems to me that we mean “we thought it was the sensible/right choice” rather than the “we had no choice” which the words imply, and I think that is cause for concern.

The first case is the one which drew my attention to this problem of language in the first place. I am pro-life in every situation – i.e. I don’t believe it is ever justified to try to end the life of an unborn, for a wide variety of different reasons, the simplest being that under no other circumstances does our normal understanding of human rights allow any attribute other than that of being a living human being to have an impact on someone’s moral status*. But I would distinguish between pro-choice and pro-abortion, the latter being more sinister as it tends to start reducing the positive freedom of the parents, as well as not considering the child.

Pro-choice suggests that the mother should make a more or less arbitrary decision, should act according to her preference whatever that is (I don’t agree with that type of practical reasoning, but it does follow logically from liberal anthropology). There would, in this case, be two cultural maps of how to act in all different types of circumstances, one of which involves having an abortion, and the other of which involves not doing so. “Had to” conveys a pro-abortion norm, because it is not acknowledging the possibility of the other way of acting. Choice is being eroded in this case by a way of thinking and speaking that suggests that choice does not really exist in a particular type of circumstance. “We thought it was the best thing to do,” however much I disagree, is at least a correct description of the decision.

“We had to get the train because the last bus had gone”. While in many ways inaccurate – in fact, you might be able to sit in a doorway all night, you might be able to find a hotel, you might be able to spend the night walking to the next town from which you could get a bus in the morning, this one doesn’t strike me as a particular problem. Getting the train from where you are is the logical option in the ordinary course of day-to-day necessity. This was more my control case than anything else. There isn’t, as far as I can see, any sort of moral issue inherently at stake in taking the train rather than the bus – no question of needing to think about the legitimacy of the action.

I had a long argument with various people about my third example, about “having to give a bribe”, which comes from one of my family doing work in a part of Africa, and people insisting that he “had to” give a bribe because that was how the country worked. I have in this case, no clear answer to the question of whether or not the action is moral or not. I can see why people would feel as foreigners that they shouldn’t challenge a system of that sort in a country where it was a long term tradition. I can also see the problems involved in not refusing. I feel, however, that citing “had to” and continuing “because of this consequence” is problematic.  In such circumstances there is always the choice to suffer the consequence, though it may not be the right thing to do in any particular case. Consider an escalation: “we had to murder three children because otherwise the customs people would have delayed us until our booked flight had gone.” I both think and hope that most people would refuse. Again, as with my first example, I think it is important not to erode the sense of “this is the right decision” with language that implies “I was deprived of the freedom to make a decision”.

So, I would suggest that we could do with being careful about the ways in which we use “have to”. Using it to refer to the need to change every day plans due to some unexpected happening is inaccurate, but probably unimportant. However, using it when some more serious choice is involved does matter, for in eroding our sense of choice, it makes it harder for us to see the thing in question as a real choice, choose rightly, and accept responsibility.

 

Cherry Foster

 

*What’s usually opposed to this “my body, my rights” does not seem to me to be any counter-argument because the child also has a physical body from the moment of conception.

Also, I don’t feel I should disapprove of abortion, however obliquely, without mentioning sources of support for people in the sort of situation where they can’t see another way forward, or who may need human assistance post-abortion. I’m not in a position to vouch for the practical quality of the help offered by any of the following, except that I met one of the Gospel of Life sisters (third link) at a conference and was favourably impressed.

https://standupgirl.com/girl-help/crisis-support/

https://lifecharity.org.uk/

https://gospeloflifesisters.wordpress.com/pregnant-we-can-help-you/

https://cardinalwinningprolifeinitiative.wordpress.com/about-us/howwecanhelp/

https://radiantlight.org.uk/crisis-pregnancy-support-etc/

The fourth link is also academically interesting from the point of view of what I’m saying about our understanding of “choice” in the case of abortion.

Under the Skin – 21 Misleading or Misinterpreted Habits of an INFJ

A somewhat frustrated and “way too honest” account of the geography of the different planet I occupy…

800px-Lenticulariswolke UFO cloud - wikipedia commons, copyright to attribution
Lenticular cloud in shape of a UFO. Source Wikimedia Commons.

Myers-Briggs is pretty controversial, but I think it is useful if you respect it for what it is, and only expect it to do what follows from that. It isn’t hard science and shouldn’t be treated as such: if what’s wanted is a personality typing which measures what job people will do best with the same type of analysis and accuracy as we measure the weight of a mole of carbon, then Myers-Briggs isn’t it – and indeed, I’d argue that we won’t ever come up with any such thing because personality isn’t that sort of concept.

However, if it is a matter of wanting conceptual theories about human difference which help people understand what’s likely to help them function better, or why they find that other person really annoying or insensitive despite the fact they obviously don’t mean to be, I think this type of observation about preference and functionality are helpful. I also find it helpful when it comes to trying to accept my own “raw material” – for example, it makes sense of the oft scorned truth that being “over”-sensitive is part of how God made me and not a moral choice. There are ways it is right for me to respond to that tendency, and ways it would not be right to respond, but the simple fact just is.

More theory on the subject can be found on this site and here.

I am (probably) an INFJ, which is the rarest personality type, combining personality traits that people don’t expect to see in the same person.

Anyone else relate to any of these?

  • I’m impossibly sensitive about asking direct questions.Yes, I’m genuinely worried that if I ask “how are you”, you’ll be offended or upset, or that you’ll actually find it intrusive, overwhelming, or unhelpful. I can see how this could be the case, particularly for people in certain life situations or who do certain types of job. And I really don’t want to make your life more difficult. I fear this often comes across as a complete lack of interest in other people’s lives. Actually, I do want to know (unless I’m being overwhelmed by my own unprocessed emotions at the time). But I find it really scary to ask.
  • I really am both emotional and analytical. Our culture is a bit liable to assume an emotional woman can’t think, or that a woman who thinks is being cynically manipulative in any display of emotion. This isn’t true. The auxiliary and tertiary functions of the INFJ – extraverted feeling and introverted thinking – can be quite close in development, and I’ve spent more time in the realm of the latter than the former.
  • I don’t do eccentric things for the sake of it. I will do anything eccentric if there is a good reason for it, without batting an external eyelid – and being disabled, there is often reason to function in a non-conventional way. And I am an emotional sponge. If you expect me to do something eccentric and don’t give me time to think, I will probably oblige you! But I don’t do eccentric things for the sake of it, and it drives me crazy when people assume I do. I would love to be more conventional. Circumstances didn’t oblige.
  • I can’t move on without sorting out what’s already happened.  If you want to tell me something I’m doing is causing you real problems, and I’m completely oblivious, believe me, I want to know. But it really matters to me that people accept, and say they accept, that I had good reasons for doing what I did, or that there wasn’t any way I could have realised it was causing problems, and that I made a socially conscientious decision. Otherwise it feels like a personal attack. If people don’t spontaneously say they understand my reasoning, then my instinct is to defend it, not because I necessarily disagree about change, but because I’m seeing something different as important.
  • How people talk to me about a decision is often more important than the fact it wasn’t the decision I wanted. Several years ago I was in two very similar situations of rejection. One still hurts me. I was upset about the other at the time, but that was all. The difference? In the one case, I felt I was more or less told not to be silly. In the other case, the person involved acknowledged what an awful position it put me in. Feeling is turned outwards in the INFJ. This means it can be difficult for us to respond to our own emotions unless others empathise.
  • I don’t negotiate in the way people expect. I like creative compromise, i.e. attempting to solve conflicts of need by creating a situation where things can work well enough for everyone, I process things from a lot of different angles quickly, and I care about truthfulness. So I tend to start negotiating from my authentic final position, and come to the table with what I’ve concluded real compromise should look like. From that point I want trade-offs and creative sideways movement if it won’t work, i.e., I expect the further discussion to be “that won’t work for us, but if we did this, would it work for you?” to which I might say “yes, that sounds good,” or “no, but the problem with that is X, so if you could do Y too” and so on
  • When negotiating, I don’t respond well to people expecting more concessions than I initially offered, rather than offering trade-offs. I find people demanding movement on what I say I need and trying to beat more concessions out of me very hostile. It feels to me like an accusation of insincerity, in that it implies the position I’ve brought to the table is false. And I tend to read it as meaning both that you think I’m being selfish (in demanding more than I really need) and that you’re actually being selfish (because you don’t seem to have any interest making sure my needs are met too)*. Moreover, though I’m quite capable of being randomly selfish, I usually feel other people’s emotions more keenly than my own, with the result that I often offer too much, more than I can really afford to give unless something is given back. At its worst, this clash of negotiation-styles leads to my being horribly hurt by a situation where I am trying to give in a way I can’t really cope with, while the others involved are furious with me because they think I’m refusing to compromise, due to the fact that they are not seeing the type of movement they expect.
  • I don’t state my position over-emphatically because I can’t see other people’s point of view, but because I can see it too easily. I don’t find it easy to cope emotionally with the internal conflict and sense of detachment from my own beliefs, values, and needs that creates.
  • Despite my value for authenticity, I have a tendency to unconscious role-playing. It drives me crazy that if someone starts acting as if they think I’m completely blind, I tend to start acting as if I was completely blind. Sometimes you have to be practical about the fact that it is more important just to get around the man-hole cover or whatever, than to explain the mistake. And sometimes it is a defensive reaction to the risk of being insulted as a malingerer, which sadly is still quite common in our society. But more often than not, it is an “emotional sponge” reaction. This is what people expect to see, think they are experiencing, and I play up to it automatically, without any sort of conscious thought being involved. INFJs tend to be more attuned to others emotions and experience than to their own – and this sort of thing is the result. It isn’t deliberate but it can create a lot of confusion about our real experience.
  • I find it extremely difficult to ask for help, even when I desperately need to – and I generally feel people are judging me for being selfish when I do. I’ve no idea how often that is real, or how often it is just a projection onto others of how I feel about asking for help. But one of the reasons that I find it so difficult to function within the church is that it is organised such that you have to demand people’s time and attention quite hard. In reality, people don’t all find that equally easy. I get really stressed and upset by needing to demand help and create conflict, and make things difficult for people, and I don’t think it is usually obvious to others that this is what is going on. Situations where I will ask for help freely are usually ones where I see others’ welfare as also being at stake, and even then I tend to get very stressed by any resulting conflict.
  • I usually get as upset by the abstractions/wider implications of an issue, as I do by the issue itself. I find this very hard to communicate to those who don’t. There’s a difference of magnitude between being upset “because the King has been shot” – what’s immediately happening – and being upset “because the King has been shot and there will probably be a massive breakdown of law and order and another world war”. If I get upset about implications or connections that others don’t see, it generally bewilders people. Sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m not. But people often seem to assume I’m upset for a reason other than the real one, and assume I’m overreacting because they don’t understand what I’m reacting to.
  • I find new information difficult because what is written on the page is only the tip of the iceberg for me. When someone suggests to me that a particular significant verse in the Bible should be interpreted in a different way, I tend to be aware that this would have effects on the refutation of the gnostic heresy, that it might mean that what’s said in such and such a hymn is inaccurate, that it has possible implications for the doctrine of double effect, may be in disagreement with the idea of calling Mary “the Mother of God”, and could offer a particular opening to Theravada Buddhist philosophy against the Christian metaphysical system. Because this is coming from a dominant function of intuition rather than being conscious thinking, I tend to become really troubled over new things until I’ve managed to explore all the implications, articulate them in actual words, and have decided for certain it won’t require me to change my overall world view significantly. It’s wearing at the best of times, and can be really distressing.
  • I find it difficult to explain things because I see too many complexities at once. So I over qualify and use too many words, and it is just confusing.
  • I find it difficult to explain things because my mind makes connections in an unusual way, and I can’t follow which connections other people make as well and which they find confusing. So I tend to either talk down to people, or completely lose them, both of which people quite justifiably find annoying. Or I say weird things because I don’t realise others don’t see the connections.
  • I over-explain not because I think you haven’t got it, but because I think I haven’t. I don’t understand things until I’ve articulated them properly. And though I am generally articulate, it doesn’t feel like it from the inside. From inside, language seems completely inadequate. And I’d like to express what I’m trying to say perfectly, not merely adequately.
  • I often sound as if I’m disagreeing not because I actually do, but because I’m trying to explore an implication or modifier, or the possible contrary arguments, or because I think the issue is more complicated than it is being stated to be. This may be more typical of those who are dominant thinkers, but I suppose there is a lot of natural variation as to when the tertiary function comes into play.
  • If I ask a question, it’s usually because I wanted to know the answer. I think in structures. I hate things that don’t make sense. I am also aware that things often make sense if you can follow through the thinking behind them, even if it is very different from yours. I am not challenging authority or telling you what you did was stupid when I ask questions. I want to know the answer. If I think it’s stupid, then I will usually tell you directly – or go off and stew for ever in silence if that is impossibly inappropriate. But a question is a question, i.e. it represents a desire for an answer! Within reason, I can live with things I don’t agree with. I can’t live with things that don’t make sense.
  • I act better in a group if I have a clearly defined role and understand the roles of others. I tend to identify closely with the role I’m supposed to have, and I tend to feel very stressed if I don’t know what it is. I liked netball at school, because each person has a specific thing to do, and has to stick to it. I could play most positions happily. But I don’t get well on with games, or in social situations, where the role isn’t a given and you have to work it out for yourself. Or if other people are technically supposed to have defined roles, and don’t play them, I struggle.
  • I’m sensitive to what other people are feeling, but I’m not at all sensitive to why. I absorb emotions, sponge like, but partly because most people don’t process things in the same way, I don’t tend to follow what’s going on for them unless they actually tell me.
  • Telling me other people are unhappy or suffering is not usually a good way of comforting me. I appreciate that it is usually meant well, in that people are trying to reassure someone that it is normal to be upset or something like that. But what I tend to find is that such comments result in an extra emotional load of suffering (from empathy) and therefore a sense of utter hopelessness.
  • I need emotional support to flourish, but I’m not good at seeking it. I find talking about anything I feel strongly difficult, though I’ve learned to do it to a certain extent over the years. The result is that I tend to speak very freely about medium strength emotion, while hiding the things I am actually in agony over when possible. When isolated, I tend to be all or nothing – either becoming unhealthily obsessed with an emotion, or supressing it completely. The outwardly turned feeling function of an INFJ tends to lead to a situation where I find it difficult to respond to my own emotions “normally” until they are articulated and reflected back to me by other people empathising. Also, because if I am hurt I tend to be very hurt and for ever, it is hard to let people in. It can be difficult to indicate to others what is needed simply because comprehension of my own feelings is less developed than it might be.

 

 

 

 

Cherry Foster

 

*I appreciate that this is not in fact the case: it depends how you process things. Though people do sometimes bring cynical false positions, people may also work out their real position by negotiating rather than pre-negotiation. I’ve no idea how this difference in approach can be dealt with.

Against Idolatry; In Favour of Images

Holy House
The Holy House in the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Inside the arch, though not very clear, is a statue of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus on her knee; the painted images on the altarpiece are: The Annunciation (left), the visitation (right), and the Adoration of the Magi (centre). Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

 

I wonder if being accused of idolatry in some context or the other is a necessary rite of passage for an Anglo-Catholic? 

I do in fact believe idolatry to be completely and utterly wrong, contrary to God’s order and the dignity of our being.

However, I would define idolatry as worshiping a creature as if it were God, or otherwise behaving as if a creature was God, not as making an image (1) in itself, or venerating it in the course of worship (2), and I freely use images in my worship and join in with worship that uses images, not because I think idolatry is in any way justifiable, but because do not believe these practices to be idolatry.

I do not think making or using images is explicitly forbidden in scripture, as being in its inherent nature idolatry. (If I did think it was forbidden in scripture, I wouldn’t do it). Consider Moses and the brass serpent. God tells Moses to make the image. God tells the Israelites to look to it for healing (3). (It is then, later, broken when people (are supposed to be?) actually worshiping it (4)). So the making of an image and the using it to seek God’s healing is in scripture as a direct command of God. Images of the cherubim are put on the ark of the covenant (5), images of pomegranates around the high priest’s robe (6), images of oxen hold up the “molten sea” in the temple (7). In the Old Testament, it is forbidden to make images because no form was seen on the day that God spoke (8). In the New Testament, we have Christ as the visible image of the invisible God; i.e. now God has shown himself in a visible form (9); by the same logic, picturing this form would be legitimate. The issue of images in scripture isn’t simple. Certainly, what Scripture says about using images in worship cannot be reduced to a blank citing of the second commandment and Deuteronomy 4.

While this is a defence of having Christian images in itself, it is not a defence of using them in any particular way. If a ritual action is intended to convey worship of anything other than God, it is idolatry, even if the thing worshipped is completely innocent. But it is worth thinking widely about ritual actions in a variety of contexts before deciding that an action is intended to convey worship, or that it implies confusion between the image and the thing itself. Consider the Prince of Wales kneeling before his mother to make an oath, soldiers saluting their flag, an annoyed child burning their teacher in effigy, a boyfriend kissing a photo of his absent girlfriend. Is any of this rightly considered an act of worship? I would confidently answer “no”. None of it is worshiping the creature as if it was the creator.

I as confidently answer “no” of putting candles or flowers or sweets down before an image of a Saint for whom I have considerable and correct (our Lord bade us love one another) affection. I believe that the question in such cases rests in what is in people’s hearts and minds. I have every sympathy with anyone who says “I don’t think I should do this because I think it will lead me into idolatry”. If it is a temptation for anyone to confuse the image with the substance, then I think they are quite right not to venerate it, and quite right for other Christians to respect that.

In the case of the last three ritual actions I cited – the ones where an image or a symbol is involved – the soldiers saluting the flag, an annoyed child burning their teacher in effigy, a boyfriend kissing a photo of his absent girlfriend – there is extremely unlikely to be any confusion between the image and the person or thing represented by the image. The soldiers know the flag isn’t actually their nation or head of state. The child doesn’t actually think they are burning the teacher to death! We who scatter flowers before the Walsingham image of the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus know perfectly well that it is a representation – or at least, if I thought others didn’t also know that, I would not myself take part.

I am aware of the warnings and I keep a watch on my heart and mind to be careful that I am not slipping into anything illegitimate. However, I think in modern times non-ritual idolatry is more of a threat. We are far, far less likely to make an idolatry of images used in religious contexts – images we know are wood and paint representations – than of money, sex, luxury or success (10). In a world where we are bombarded with images of considerable emotional power, often for the sake merely of manipulation, there is a lot to be said for challenging this in its own language – by making and using images of what is good. This would not be a reason to make or use images in worship if it was forbidden – not at all – it is sensible to trust that if God says “don’t” it is for our good. However, as I don’t think it is forbidden, I also don’t think it is a matter of mere indifference, in that there can be very positive advantages to using images to communicate.

Overall, I think it is right that I should use images as aids to the devotion and seeking for grace which lead me towards God and away from sin. I wouldn’t challenge anyone else’s preference not to. I do not worship such images and would consider doing so very wrong – indeed, much of their assistance for me rests on my consciousness of their inadequacy.

Cherry Foster

 

  1. I use “image” throughout to mean a made representation intended to picture something other than it is, whether 3-dimensional or 2-dimensional. Idolatry in the sense of focusing conscious worship on an entity other than God does not require an actual image: one could, for instance, worship an unshaped stone, but as this post is intended as an explanation of the what/why of venerating images, this is not really important.
  2. C.f. 1994 Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. (As an Anglican I respect this Catechism as a theological document rather than regarding it as having authority). This post was partly inspired by a (civilised and very interesting) conversation I had with a protester against the National Pilgrimage to Walsingham, and the leaflet by Richard Bennett I was handed on that occasion.  While I appreciate the difficulties of summarising, I think he tends to misrepresent somewhat in quoting those passages which disagree with his view, and not those which qualify them into something much closer to it. (For example, he quotes CCC para. 2131 and the beginning of 2132, in favour of the notion that the Roman Catholic Church believes in idolatry, and not the end of 2132 or 2113 which firmly refuse it). The Catechism 2110-2132 is generally relevant to what I’m saying, and uses many of the same arguments, though it was not my primary source for most of them.
  3. Numbers 21:4-9.
  4. 2 Kings 18:4.  Precisely what is going on in this passage or with these reforms puzzles me considerably, as does most of the theology of the books of Kings.
  5. Exodus 25:18-20
  6. Exodus 28:33-34
  7. 1 Kings 7:20. 1 Kings 7 also mentions other images among the decorations of the Temple.
  8. Deuteronomy 4:15-20
  9. Colossians 1:15
  10. C.f. Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5; in both cases it is specifically greed that is identified with idolatry.

In Both Kinds?

Aspects of a sacrament that are not required for validity can still be important.

IMG_0006
Petal-art for Corpus et Sanguis Christi beside an outdoor altar.

Suppose a priest in a High Anglican or Roman Catholic* Church turned up one hot Sunday morning in the summer in a swimming costume and started to celebrate High Mass.

To the protests of the laity, and probably diocese, suppose this priest was to respond “it doesn’t matter, the Sacrament is still valid.”

I doubt most people would feel this was a good and sufficient argument…

 

Yet exactly that argument is used to justify the denial of Communion in both kinds, either on an everyday basis, or in regarding it as something without significant value, which it is not worth bothering with when inconvenient. I am entirely with those that feel vestments and ceremony are part of the proper celebration of the Eucharist under normal conditions. I don’t think priests should celebrate the Eucharist wearing swimming costumes, or indeed, wearing ordinary clothes, without some very good reason for it.

However, vestments are part of the tradition the church has developed for the appropriate presentation and dignity of the Eucharist, while the reception of the bread and the cup are part of the original institution: it is reasonable to argue that traditions such as vestments should be considered much less important**, than reception in both kinds. And this does not currently seem to be the case.

This may be one of the issues in which someone who has studied Christian philosophy naturally has a rather different perspective from those who come to it from theology. Validity is important, but it is properly a baseline and not a ceiling from the logical point of view. Validity is a minimum. It isn’t a be-all and end-all of what we are doing – and, as I’m pointing out with the “priest-in-swimming-costume” example, we don’t use the same argument of “not necessary for validity” as a reason not to do any other element of what we normally do. For only the priest to receive the cup – or to celebrate not dressed – in a labour camp in Siberia is all very well. But what is permissible in truly exceptional circumstances doesn’t usually serve as a good guide for everyday practice. The Sacraments are not mechanical rites, to be reduced to their minimum essential elements for fairly minor reasons, but rather things to be celebrated and received with as much fullness as possible, as part of what God has given us.

I would emphasise that I do not judge anyone’s individual spirituality, or relationship with God in the Sacrament, or personal medical needs. To receive in one kind through individual choice is different from the corporate decision to offer Communion only in one kind.

However, I would suggest that those of us to whom reception in both kinds matters devotionally and spiritually, should celebrate valuing the reception of the Chalice, rather than being ashamed of caring about it. The Cup is Christ’s gift to us too, and it is good to value his gifts, according to his way of choosing to work with us.

It does at least not logically follow that because something is not necessary for the validity of a Sacrament it is not significant and important.

Cherry Foster

 

*I am not a Roman Catholic, but I think there is enough shared ground here to have a sensible academic argument on the issue!

** I.e. laid aside with a far lower threshold of reasons to do differently. (For those familiar with the language: what I am saying is that I think it would make more sense to be prepared to lay aside vestments for just cause, but to require a serious reason not to offer Communion in both kinds, than the other way around).

N.B. Lest there be any confusion, I am among the Anglicans who fully endorse the Real Presence, but reject literal Transubstantiation (or any other attempt to reduce the Real Presence to a precise human theory) as trying to reduce the mystery to a bit of human thinking, though I happily regard most of the theories as useful but limited imagery to help us enter into the mystery.

 

Asking Unaskable Questions

You volunteer as a Cathedral guide, and are standing about without very much to do. A fellow guide comes over. “Two – women – want a tour. I have to wait for the coach party at 2. Can you take them round?”

You haven’t anything else booked and there’s someone to mind the leaflet stand. “Yes”. You walk over.

The two – women – consist of a younger woman, who could in point of fact be anywhere between twelve and forty, wearing a plain green hoodie and denim skirt, sitting in an electric wheelchair with her head on a rest, faltering out highly distorted speech. With her is an older woman, with greying hair and a stylish umbrella.

This could be anything from a student who has just graduated from Cambridge, out for the day with her paid carer, to a mother with her daughter who has a permanent mental age of six. At first glance, there is no way of telling. Yet the appropriate response and appropriate tour is completely different.

I’ve been on all three sides of this: I’ve been the visibly disabled person (most common), the volunteer who has to work out how to respond, and the (perceived) carer who is liable to be treated as a machine and ignored, rather than included as a friend or relative (which was the actual truth). There are real difficulties to all three positions.

The step of dropping the blanket assumption that someone with a physical disability is necessarily mentally impaired is beginning in the UK (I think we should be careful of assuming we are the first culture or society to make that step, lest we be justly accused of arrogance).

Unfortunately, I speak advisedly when I say “beginning” – “does he take sugar” is very far from being played out. It can be seen in many things, from the typical legal warnings about the use of products (which assume disabled people lack agency and automatically aren’t responsible for their own safety) to the social tendency to ignore a disabled person’s insistence that they are able to do some ordinary activity, but to instantly believe anyone with them.

However, it isn’t enough to say what people shouldn’t assume, without offering some different norm that they can use instead.  There is a real problem of communication and etiquette. How can we tell? How can we communicate what the appropriate response is in such situations? How do we start a conversation without doing something wrong or being hopelessly awkward or embarrassed? How do we as volunteers/service personnel ask what is wanted, or give the other person the opportunity to tell us? How do we as disabled people politely indicate the other person is getting it wrong and needs to switch modes or change what they are doing?

 

Cherry Foster

Looking like a mother?

I am in general exceedingly reluctant to make statements about God’s judgement, between our inability to know the state of someone else’s soul and their real intentions, the fact that the mind of God is not the mind of man, and the injunctions against the usurping of the judgement of God in the New Testament.

However, allowing for all these caveats, in as far as things can be said on this matter by mere mortals, taking into account both the letter and tenor of Scripture and such elements of the Tradition with which I am familiar, I think I can say with reasonable confidence, and without too much fear of contradiction, that no-one will be held to account at the last judgement, for the inherent action of taking their toddler to a group at the library without their make-up on!

School Library Wikamedia commons no copyright
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

The ongoing emphasis on the appearance and presentation of women in our culture is strange.  In some ways we seem not to have shaken off the notion that a woman has nothing to offer humanity but being pretty or sexy, and that any other task or role in life isn’t really important compared to that*. Somehow, a frivolous view of femininity – of womanliness as nothing more than girly frills and exposed cleavage – still seems to have a surprising hold.

I don’t think it is a sin in and of itself to put make-up on. I am not criticising in any way the mother who leaves her children sometimes with her husband, their granny, or a competent babysitter, and takes appropriate time off to dress up and go to a party. It is part of the basic duties of some jobs to meet a certain standard of personal presentation and that is in a different category altogether. Nor would I in any way think anyone should criticise a mother who goes out immaculately presented due to her baby not needing extra attention that morning, or because she happens to find these things easy and doesn’t need much time or energy for them.

However, if a woman has gone out to a toddler group with her hair not done or her make-up not on, because baby was fractious this morning, or because her husband had had a bad night and was expecting a difficult day and she took the time to make lunch for him, or because the toddler went crash down the bottom three stairs and needed a lot of kissing better, this should not be a matter for sneering. On the contrary, those who put care for other people** before their personal appearance have their priorities right.

 

417px-MAC_pink_lipstick_(1) wikimedia commons, copyright to attribution
Source: Wikimedia commons

 

 

*I have no idea if or how similar attitudes affect men – I would be very interested to hear!

**In proportion – i.e. with a certain attention to equality of sacrifice when the relationships are between adults. If the husband is working a twelve-hour day six days a week, and the wife has a servant to help her, there probably is no inequality in her fetching his slippers when he is at home. But when the husband is working an eight-hour day five days and the woman can no longer get help, things may be starting to get skewed.

It seems to me that a tendency to run to extremes – to create either situations where the carer is regarded as selfish to have ordinary human needs of their own, or situations where a person is positively supposed to put their trivial desires before anything else – is one of the problems we tend to have as a society in creating and maintaining healthy serving and caring roles.

 

Cherry Foster

A Preface of Thanksgiving

O Lord our God, we render thee thanksgiving,

For all thy beauty and for all thou art,

In joy and duty, we rejoice before thee,

As to thy love we raise our thankful heart.

O Lord our God, the source of all our being,

O life, and love, and majesty untold.

O thou who art, beyond a creature’s knowing,

Our love and thanks within thy heart enfold.

 

O loving God, from whom we turned in passion,

To passing things which cannot satisfy,

And on ourselves have wrought the dreadful sentence,

To suffer pointlessly and then to die.

O Lord who came, who laidst aside thy glory,

And as a slave thy throne and right didst leave,

Divinest Word, whose voice was formless crying,

For pity all our faltering thanks receive.

 

O human God, who taught and loved and pitied,

Who gavest us e’en thy body and thy life.

O Godhead that a human death hast suffered,

Rejected, cursed, and wounded in the strife.

Thy accurséd death has wrought for us salvation,

O life that killing we could not destroy;

Incarnate God enthroned above the heavens,

May our delight in thy love be thy joy.

 

O living God, who poureth out the Spirit,

That hearts yet fallen may with thee abide,

That we may rise and be like thee for ever,

And thou with us as bridegroom is with bride.

O Holy Lord, O Holy, Holy, Holy,

Who hast made us to sing the Archangels’ song,

Our utter adoration bring we to thee,

Whose gift it is that we to thee belong.

 

Cherry Foster

 

Ascension_from_Vasilyevskiy_chin_(15th_c_,_GTG) Alex Bakharev no copyright
Ascension_from_Vasilyevskiy chin. Andrej Rublëv. Photo source Wikimedia Commons